Metabolism is often talked about in the context of weight loss—and though it does refer to your body’s ability to produce energy (which, yes, means burning calories), there’s so much more to the story. “Metabolic health is literally the powerhouse of the body,” says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Karen Cooney, R.D. “You rely on your metabolism to think, digest, circulate blood, keep warm in the cold, and stay cool in the heat.”
Over time, a healthy metabolism has a pretty significant impact on your ability to thrive. “To be metabolically healthy means that your body is able to respond to food in a beneficial way that reduces your risk of conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,” notes certified health coach and culinary nutritionist Ronit Kalman, Ph.D.
A variety of factors, such as age, sex, and genetics, influence your metabolic health, but your lifestyle wields immense power over how your metabolism fares throughout your lifetime. Here are eight healthy metabolism habits that’ll do your inner fire good.
1. Eat Regular, Balanced Meals
Research shows that eating regular, well-balanced meals helps reduce inflammation in the body, regulates circadian rhythm, and supports the healthy bacteria in your gut, all of which ultimately support metabolic health. Since nutrition really is foundational for your metabolism, Kalman recommends prioritizing three balanced meals a day that consist of lean protein, fiber, complex carbs, and healthy fats. She also recommends avoiding late-night snacking, which can impact metabolic health by disrupting sleep and digestion.
2. Focus on Fiber
Of the must-have nutrients Kalman notes above, fiber is particularly impressive for supporting a healthy metabolism. In fact, research suggests that plant-based meals, in which fiber truly shines, give your metabolism a significant boost in the hours that follow.
“Consuming more high-fiber foods results in a higher caloric burn as your body works extra hard to break down the fiber, which is actually indigestible,” says Cooney. Plus, fiber also feeds the good bacteria in your gut—and a healthy gut microbiome is a must for metabolic health, adds Kalman.
To maximize your fiber intake, incorporate plenty of oats, apples, avocados, legumes, broccoli, raspberries, barley, and almonds into your diet. Another quick and easy source Kalman recommends: flaxseed. Try two tablespoons of ground flaxseed atop soups, salads, oatmeal, or yogurt.
3. Prioritize Sleep
Levels of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and leptin (the satiety hormone) are regulated while we sleep—and research shows that a lack of sleep can increase ghrelin levels, which stimulates appetite, while simultaneously lowering leptin levels, downregulating satiety. Given that, it’s no wonder you feel hungrier than usual after a night of crummy sleep.
Where things really go south for your metabolism: Often, that hardcore hunger leads you straight for sweet or processed foods, which strap you into a rollercoaster of up and down blood sugar, according to Kalman. While it’s normal for blood sugar levels to fluctuate throughout the day, the frequent and extreme spikes caused by high-carbohydrate or sugary foods can contribute to metabolic dysfunction in the form of insulin resistance, which occurs when insulin (the hormone that helps regulate the amount of sugar in the blood) no longer functions properly. Studies have linked insulin resistance to heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic dysfunction.
After a poor night’s sleep, Kalman suggests steering clear of sugary foods and opting for a breakfast that is high in fat or protein. Instead of muffins, juices, and cereals, think almond butter on seeded bread, rolled oats topped with fresh fruit, or organic eggs sauteed with spinach and roasted veggies.
Of course, the primary goal here is to get enough sleep and prevent this struggle in the first place. If your sleep schedule is out of whack, challenge yourself to go to bed earlier. “It’s always easier to go to bed earlier because that’s more under your control than when you wake up,” says Kalman. The goal? Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night. If you’re struggling to get quality rest, these supplements may be able to help.
4. Stay Hydrated
Studies show that those who drink more water tend to burn more calories during the day. That’s just one of the reasons Cooney recommends downing a large glass of water (preferably icy) first thing in the morning. Research suggests that drinking cold water can increase your metabolism by up to 25 percent for nearly an hour after you sip, since chilled water stimulates thermogenesis (heat production) in the body, which means more energy expended.
Not sure how much to drink the rest of the day? The going recommendation these days is to shoot for half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water per day.
Read More: Are You Dehydrated Without Even Knowing It?
If you’re looking to add some flavor, avoid artificial sweeteners and instead add natural ingredients like mint, basil, oranges, cucumbers, or lemons. “Lemons also contain a fiber called pectin that’s been shown in studies to support a healthy weight by helping reduce your body’s absorption of fat,” says Cooney. Research also shows that pectin can help support healthy blood sugar levels, which is good news for metabolic health long-term.
5. Do Regular HIIT or Strength Training
“Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, reduces stress and weight, and improves muscle mass,” says Kalman. It can also help to improve sleep and eating habits, all of which contribute to your overall metabolic health, she adds.
And while all exercise is great, studies show that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and strength-based workouts keep your metabolism elevated for hours. Another perk of strength training: The more muscle you have, the more energy your body uses even at rest (this part of your metabolism is known as your basal metabolic rate), explains Kalman. Stoking that inner fire is particularly helpful if you want to maintain a healthy body weight.
If you’re new to fitness, working out with a friend or family member, using a fitness tracker to set daily goals, and finding activities you find accessible and enjoyable can help make the routine stick, Kalman suggests.
6. Switch To Tea
If your morning coffee order tastes more like dessert, consider swapping it for tea. “Coffee loaded with sugar and milk instantly leads to bloating and uneasiness, and can slow down the metabolic process,” says Cooney. “Instead, go for healthy tea options like green tea, which can help boost metabolism and help in weight management.”
Thanks to the antioxidants and caffeine found in green tea, sipping on it helps your body convert fat molecules into fatty acids—and can even boost the total number of calories you burn in a day, according to Cooney.
7. Reduce Stress
Research has identified links between chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol and poor metabolic health. “Chronically elevated cortisol levels can cause you to pack weight on around the middle, increase blood sugar, and lead to chronic inflammation on a cellular level,” she explains.
Stress also makes us more likely to reach for sugary or processed foods, which can contribute to blood sugar instability and metabolic dysfunction over time, notes Kalman. If you’re able, she recommends meal prepping over the weekend so that you have easy, ready-to-go meals ready to go throughout busy weeks. Carving out time for sleep and exercise will also help keep stress levels in check.
8. Get More Of These Vitamins
Supplements are no replacement for a well-balanced diet, routine exercise, and consistent sleep, but they can definitely boost your healthy metabolism efforts if you’ve got those factors down, says Kalman. Research suggests that vitamin A and vitamin E both work against metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Meanwhile, vitamin C is known to combat oxidative stress, which slows down metabolic rate. Check in with your doctor or talk to a nutritionist about whether an extra boost of these vitamins could do you good—and how much to take.